Asks more of Janet Leigh than I'd dare to, learns more from Michael Lucas than I'd care to
Michael Musto reports he has a big dick, a claim unsubstantiated by Gay City News as of press time. After reading his new book, however, which dropped earlier this month, I can testify that the man does have big balls.
Like his last offering, “Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back” is a compendium of Musto’s previously published articles from his popular Village Voice column spanning almost three decades, this time focusing primarily on the ‘90s and ‘00s.
In his introduction, Musto claims there are two kinds of people: “Those who love to gossip”—and “complete liars,” which is a twist on an old joke about size queens. I just want to go on record to say that I am neither a gossip nor a size queen. But one doesn’t have to be either to enjoy Musto’s musings, whether an insightful 2003 commentary on Arnold Schwarzenegger and his gubernatorial aspirations or his waxing prophetic on the career advantages to coming out of the closet.
Displaying writing chops with wide-ranging dexterity that goes beyond just dish, Musto has an opinion about everything and everyone, whether it’s the death of nightlife partying on the Lower East Side, the gruesome death of a partying Lower East Sider, a phantom “doorman” who seems to show up wherever he goes, or the frenetic media strategizing over Ellen’s coming out (the TV character DeGeneris played, not the actor herself).
What’s more, he’s not afraid to attach a byline to what he writes, unlike the plethora of online posters named “Anonymous” whom Musto luxuriates in lambasting for their cowardly covert comments.
And even more death-defying is that he spills the beans on secrets meant for keeping while brilliantly managing to remain lawsuit-free without the help of a 12-step program.
Those who lived and partied in New York during the times the author covers will relish the opportunity for healthy waves of nostalgia — or express gratitude for his helping to fill in blurred gaps of time spent in blackouts, gray-outs, or K-holes. But rest assured, there’s something for everyone in Musto’s compilation. Even those born yesterday will get a vicarious thrill reading the irrepressible cynic who would trash anyone while dedicating his collection “to everyone who is still speaking to me.”
The book contains a few new essays as well, Musto told Gay City News, including a thought-provoking indictment of hypocrisy called “The State of the Celebrity Closet,” which exposes mainstream media’s support of what Musto refers to as the “glass closet” and the peer pressure he suffered from said enablers when refusing to kowtow to their definitions of gossip etiquette. (Yes, there is such a thing — ask any publicist.) No blind items here — just cold, hard facts, with a big dose of tale tattling.
On the other hand, I almost lost my sight — and my mind — after reading the second entry in the Chapter entitled “Legally Blind,” which contains litigant-proof, innuendo-insulated queries that Musto aptly describes as “pesky items without names to drive the readers extra crazy.” I’m not sure which was more disturbing — the endless bombardment of coy questions a la Rona Barrett (pre-Page Six) or the fact that I couldn’t figure out the answers — even when Musto occasionally supplied hints. Unlike crossword puzzles in tabloids, no answer page was ever provided. Undoubtedly, though, a fair percentage of Mustophiles will know many of the answers.
Despite my personal handicap in this sport, I don’t underestimate the potential power of blind items; it was one of Musto’s own that gained the attention of the aforementioned Page Six and led to the apprehension of party promoter Michael Alig, who was eventually convicted for the brutal murder of drug dealer and fellow clubber Andre “Angel” Melendez.
Musto packs plenty of puns, double entendres, and wordsmith gymnastics into his prose, and, as he admits, he hasn’t come across a cliché he’s resisted employing. Sometimes the effect is Mustofying; at others, it can be tedious. Then again, I don’t recommend reading through the book at a reviewer’s pace. Like the pungency of patchouli, a little Musto goes a long way. He crams a lot within a small package. (More than once, he bats down the double entendre in that last sentence by asserting that happy to see you or not, he’s wielding something more lethal in his pocket than just a poison pen.)
At times, his witticisms fall short of clever and stop at cringe-worthy. The beauty of it is that he doesn’t seem to care. It’s all in good fun. Or is it? What lies behind what sometimes seems like stream-of-consciousness raving is the mind of a cultural and political commentator who knows his craft. And after all, he’s attempting to please a wide audience –– i.e., the world — champing at the bit for his insider scooping. Even the worst of puns elicits a reaction and hits a target. Any cheap shot will do, particularly when they’re often just throwaways or red herrings aimed to soften — or harden? — the blow of more serious issues he’s brave enough to take on.
Besides some endearing moments of self-deprecation, equally admirable is Musto’s fearlessness when posing probing questions deemed too personal by most others of his ilk, like asking Carrie Fisher about whether she ever walked in on her mother having sex with Agnes Moorehead, or approaching Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom and broaching the subject of her daughter’s alleged Y chromosome (a blind item of Page Six’s Cindy Adams, many blue moons ago). The former came back with a quick-witted quip, while the latter brushed off the comment — and Musto — speculating that the rumor may have started when she chose a non-gender-specific first name before she gave birth to Tony’s daughter.
While engaging in innocuous banter with former First Daughter Patti Davis shortly after she posed nude — the first time, for Playboy — Musto pressed her to agree that her daddy, Ronald Reagan, did absolutely nothing during his two terms in the Oval Office as AIDS morphed into a worldwide health crisis. After much equivocation, the best the columnist could get out of the once-rebellious Davis was, “I think he wasn’t doing enough,” much to Musto’s bewilderment.
Other pieces sure to please are Musto’s mercurial interviews (“Weirdos Are My Heroes”), where he matches tit for tat with the likes of Sarah Silverman, Sandra Bernhard, and Dame Edna Everage. In the same chapter is a dinner conversation Musto had with legendary self-promoter and self-fellator cum porn star producer Michael Lucas, which Musto prefaced “could turn you celibate.” When asked whether he’s ever bottomed, Lucas answered, “Only top. Otherwise, my asshole would look like ground beef right now — like it was eaten by a zombie.” Lucas also described his movie “Farts!”: “…It’s sweet. There’s a lot of urination and a lot of water squirting out of the ass into the mouth.” While Lucas directed and produced the movie, he didn’t appear in it, and Musto asked him why. “I’m a class ass,” he responded. “No one will invite me to any openings if I’m appearing in a movie called ‘Farts!’” When asked about his double standard, he readily admitted, “I’m very hypocritical.”
Well, I was already celibate — but I believe it’s possible after reading the duo’s dialogue that I’m now impotent. But in light of Lucas’ recent battles with Israel’s critics over access to space at the LGBT Community Center, this one might yet be worth the price of admission, providing psychological insight into Lucas’ hyperbolic outspokenness.
Musto’s book has moments — many, in fact –– where I was totally engaged and intrigued; my copy is scattered with stars to designate times when I laughed out loud. “Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back” will be a worthy collection to your library, but allow me to make a suggestion: Don’t leave it on your coffee table, unless you don’t care if your guests aren’t listening to a word you’re saying. Instead, put it where everyone will able to appreciate it in private, next to the throne. It’s sure to entertain, offering as it does a sometimes moving experience.
FORK ON THE LEFT, KNIFE IN THE BACK
By Michael Musto
$15.95; 288 pages